Saturday, November 12, 2011

October on the Mountain

October has been about Mt. Adams for our family. With the backpacking season appearing to wind down, our attention turned to the mountain we see everyday. We live 45 minutes from the climber's route up to the summit and have been dotting our map with GPS points taken all over the mountain. The photos in this post are from all three different trips up.

You have a 2 mile hike in (from 4,500 feet to 6,000) and then the trail disappears.

You are on your own up the next 3.8 miles and 6,276 feet. At 12,276 feet, Mt. Adams is the second highest peak in Washington.

This has been quite the month for me. I have attempted to write about it numerous times but, as always when things become emotionally vulnerable, I've been unable to get it all out in any coherent fashion. Normally the thoughts are all penned up in my head while I mull over them. Lately, this hasn't worked quite as well. Rather than feeling out of it while my brain sorts through all that troubling emotional baggage, I've been sorting through it all full frontal and messily. Perhaps it is progress, but I preferred being a bit more emotionally detached.

I like thinking out on the mountain. Everything seems calmer and much more simple. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see Mt. Hood in the background.

In short, sometimes you just have to climb a mountain. There just isn't another option. You recognize you are at a point in your life where the commitment level requires you to be all in - regardless of inclement weather, odds, previous tragedy, and difficulty. You plan ahead, pack carefully, and then throw yourself at it with all you've got.

Get out your crampon's people; let's get serious!

I've found tackling emotional conflict works best when you tackle physical conflict as well. You can leave yourself all out there and come back to your regular life feeling much more refreshed.

Look at that cute little alpine terrorist! The kid did great. No altitude sickness. No whining. Just wanted to pound more mountain.

The first two times we went up the mountain we did it in sneakers. Crampons are something we did not wish for the Barracuda to wear until he was older. They are just too darn dangerous. We wanted him to be able to read the snow, to know how to chop steps, to understand the mountain intimately before using technology as a quick fix. He's been learning French and American style climbing for the last two years, and has done much work with his ice ax, but front spikes can permanently destroy your ability to walk if misused. If you step wrong you can slice your Achilles tendon, if they catch when are self arresting you can rip your ankle/leg clean the wrong direction. I didn't want to risk that.

The wind whips though and blows the moisture against the exposed rocks. It is so cold the moisture freezes on contact. Even in full sun, the ground and rocks don't melt free. The extreme contrast of the snow and rocks, the sparkling ice, the color of a sky at 11,000 feet.... Ansel Adams would have had a field day up here.

However, like most everything else in our lives, The Barracuda had other ideas. When you get up to 10,000 feet the first false summit (Piker's Peak) becomes coated in solid ice. If the kid wants to really climb 14'ers that means he is going to have to have crampons. So, with complete abject terror, we ordered him a pair on eBay. Three sets of 12 point, front spike, mountaineering crampons now grace our walls (yes, we hang our gear up on the walls). He did fine, but I'm going to have to upgrade the child's gaiters - at this point he needs Hypalon and Cordura.

The Barracuda isn't levitating, he is walking on 3 inches of solid ice. Though treacherous, the entire world glistens with an ethereal quality you can only get at extreme altitude. It is worth the risk if he gets to see these things. How can you adequately understand global warming if you have never seen what you are destroying?

Training on Mt. Adams was great mental work for me, but was even more important as training. If we are going to tackle the Sierra Nevada mountains in what is apparently planned to be quite the snow year, we better have our groundwork wired tight. There were multiple times of flinging the kid down a slope for self arrest. You have to practice from multiple different angles and places. If you roll wrong, you can impale yourself on the ice axe or hit yourself in the face with the adze. It is better than dying, but not the preferable option.

Chopping through fresh snow is quite the adventurous feeling. However, it is exhausting. Jules and I took turns working out way up the mountain.

There were also steps to practice chopping. When you don't use crampons, you have to chop steps in the ice, balance up, chop another, take a step, lean forward and chop another, etc. It is slow going, but it gives you a severe appreciation for elevation. Since we won't be taking any crampons through the Sierras this was an incredibly important part of the whole adventure.

Weeee! Even Jules and I glissade as much as possible on the way down. Glissading means that going up the mountain takes a good 8 hours, but coming down takes a little more than one.

But the best part, as far as The Barracuda is concerned, was the glissade down. A glissade is a controlled slide down some serious elevation. He has been practicing glissading while standing up to control his balance. He now got to apply that knowledge to a full on glissade sitting down using his ice axe. The point of the ax is driven into the snow to control your direction and speed as you slide down on your butt a few thousand feet in elevation. It's a serious rush. Think sledding times a thousand.

Coming from Georgia, there just aren't mountains like this within an hour of home. It wasn't the reason he agreed to move way out here in the sticks, but it is pretty darn rad.

The best part as far as Jules is concerned, is just being up on the mountain. Being able to expose The Barracuda to real mountains and scaling the earth is quite a nice perk to this whole parenting thing. It is very obvious that The Barracuda sees this as major guy time. I will often hang back and let the two of them walk off together talking about one testosterone filled idea after another.

We have really enjoyed learning the contours, ridgelines, and various snowfields of our closest mountain. Since we look at him everyday, rely on him for our heat, and watch him control our weather patterns, it is kind of nice to have a more intimate connection. Behind the snow smudge is Mt. Hood.

I'm just glad to get my head on straight. Though both Jules and I dropping 20 pounds has been a nice addition. We're both back to pre-college weight and remembering what it is like to be at the bottom of the body-mass-index.

I don't know of many other ways to take yourself completely out of the normal world, yet sleep in your own bed at the end of the evening.

We are up at 4 am and hiking in in the dark. We come home as the sunsets and the snow is turning pink. By the time we get to our car it is dark again, much like when we came. The days are long and full, but very well worth it. We see incredible things, experience great feats, and practice valuable skills together.

After all, isn't that the point of this whole family thing?

3 thoughts:

Mr. H. said...

It is indeed a surreal otherworldly thing to sit on the top of a snow covered peak and only see other mountains and valleys off in the distance. My wife and I always time our hikes so as not to see any other people, often all day, and the success of this makes the whole experience even more fantastic as if we are the only ones in the world...leastwise for a short period of time.

How exciting for your boy to have his very own crampons.:) And that slide down the mountain sounds so fun.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." - John Muir

Mel said...

The crampons would scare me, too. My older son is not the most coordinated of creatures, so I think he would slice himself right up. Maybe when he gets a bit older... And I know what you mean--when things get crazy in your head or heart, sometimes the best way to deal with that is to get outside and work you muscles while freeing your brain.

Natalie said...


Can't recall exactly how I found your blog but I have really enjoyed reading it. After skipping around for awhile I finally went to the beginning and read all the way through. Looking forward to hearing details about how the cabin renovations went.

I have a question, do you have enough food put up so that you won't have to do any canning or preserving this summer? With the hike I am assuming you won't be able to for the summer of 2012.

I am also a homeschooling mom. I have two boys 15 and 11 who love the outdoors.

Looking forward to more posts.

Post a Comment

Template by:

Free Blog Templates